Why is it that some people are considered photogenic and others are not? What can a beginning photographer do to circumvent this when making a portrait?
To address this issue head on, we recently spoke with noted portrait photographers Lindsay Adler and Brian Smith, who helped us compile these eight essential tips for creating successful portraits.
“I think ‘photogenic’ doesn’t have to do with the way people look, but instead how they feel and behave in front of the camera,” says Adler. “A lot of the time people who don’t feel photogenic are already afraid of having their photograph taken, which then shows in their expression. Our job is to break down those barriers, help our subjects feel confident, and then find the angles, poses, and lighting to highlight that individual’s strengths,” she explains. “Nothing is more rewarding than creating a stunning image for someone who otherwise believed they were not photogenic.”
1. Connect with Your Subject and Share in the Process
As Adler points out in the quote above, the recipe for a good portrait entails more than just photo and lighting gear. It starts with the photographer making a distinct effort to connect with the subject so they are at ease with the image-making process. This can often include advance research on your portrait subject and his or her interests—everything from familiarizing yourself with their passions to bring up as a conversation starter, to specific environmental factors, such as their favorite music playing in the studio to make them feel more relaxed during the shoot.
When doing online research, pay close attention to other portraits of the subject you find, and ask yourself what you can do improve on what others have captured. If there’s time for the two of you to chat in advance, a few well-directed questions about details—such as your subject’s favorite color or article of clothing; if there’s a facial angle, a pose or even a past portrait that they like best; as well as whether the portrait you’ll be making has a specific purpose or any production specs you’ll need to match—can go a long way in making them satisfied with the results.